The Blancos’ long continental reign is over after a shock second leg defeat – a result that will have huge ramifications in the Spanish capital
Today’s empire, tomorrow’s ashes. Real Madrid’s vice-like grip on the Champions League is over.
Electric Ajax stunned the 13-time European champions at the Santiago Bernabeu with a 4-1 (5-3 aggregate) victory, ending their reign of over 1,000 days as kings of the continent.
And Madrid’s veteran generals will fade too. Santiago Solari has started that process by dumping Marcelo, Gareth Bale and Isco on the bench – or in the case of the latter, in the stands – although he too will fall.
This result sealed Solari’s fate and he will not manage the club next season. He cannot, after presiding over the greatest humiliation in their recent history.
Two Clasico defeats by Barcelona and this elimination by Ajax saw Madrid’s entire season crumble in the space of seven days.
They have nothing left to play for, out of the Copa del Rey, 12 points behind leaders Barcelona in La Liga and eliminated from the Champions League in the last 16 for the first time since 2006.
Madrid have won the Champions League for three seasons in a row but were dismantled by Ajax as the Santiago Bernabeu’s nerves were shredded on a thrilling evening in the capital.
Solari’s side came into the last 16 second leg on Tuesday with the cushion of a 2-1 away triumph in Amsterdam, something captain Sergio Ramos deemed big enough to get himself booked for deliberately so as to be suspended for this clash.
It could have been far more uncomfortable, had VAR not ruled out a Nicolas Tagliafico goal in the first leg, or Kasper Dolberg not spurned a late chance when sent through on Thibaut Courtois’s goal.
Ramos was badly missed, with Ajax’s fancy footwork and nimble movement in attack terrifying his replacement Nacho Fernandez (who was sent off late on) and Raphael Varane.
Varane hit the bar early on with a header but Ajax bit back immediately with the phenomenal Dusan Tadic feeding Hakim Ziyech who stroked home the opener.
The Moroccan playmaker struck in the first leg and was a problem for Madrid’s defence all night – although former Southampton midfielder Tadic was even better.
Operating upfront in a false nine role, the Ajax No 10 played more like Barcelona’s No 10. His assist for David Neres’s second goal was remarkable, including a spinning roulette turn that left Casemiro dizzy and in the dust.
Gareth Bale, on as a substitute for the injured Lucas Vazquez, hit the post as Madrid tried to fight their way back into the game, but nothing went Los Blancos’ way on a frustrating night.
That was emphasised when Ajax scored their third, a sensational shot into the top corner from Tadic, his sixth goal of the competition. Along with three assists, that’s nine direct contributions to goals – no player has more in the Champions League.
Madrid quarrelled that the ball went out of play earlier in the move – and though the incident was referred to VAR, which seemed to show that the ball DID go out of play – eventually the goal was given.
Nicolas Tagliafico’s first leg goal was stricken from the records using video, but this time the technology did not save Madrid’s bacon.
Nothing could, because they were outclassed and outfought, with this result and elimination a long time coming.
Madrid have enjoyed great luck over the past three seasons as they have won their trophies, with their La Liga struggles showing that they are not a great side any more, despite what the history books say.
Marco Asensio pulled one back for Madrid, giving them momentary hope, but Lasse Schone’s spectacular, dipping free-kick slammed that door in their face as soon as it opened, ensuring Madrid’s era of European dominance is finally at an end.